Imagine how awesome it would be if this announcement read: “Time Drive has been completely rewritten from scratch (yet again) to take better advantage of the paradigms of modern computing! Version 0.3 has hundreds of updates and new features which will make your life easier and more fulfilled!”
There's just one little problem … such a hyper inflated announcement wouldn't necessarily be true. (Marketing hyperbole, I never knew thee!) The truth is this: Time Drive is a simple backup program that does a good job of reliably backing up your data. It offers a nice list of potential backup options: from an attached hard drive, to a computer over the network, or across the internet. It makes it easy to search for and restore a lost file. In short, Time Drive seeks to change the world by making an act of computer maintenance more convenient.
But the real test of a program isn’t how well it works, but how easy it is to fix when broken. A good program does what you want, but a better program helps you get back on track when things go wrong. Back when I was looking at other backup programs available for Linux, this was my number one frustration. Most of the applications would work (for the most part), but I could never troubleshoot or repair problems when they happened. There just wasn’t enough information available.
For an example, let’s take SBackup. It’s a lovely little program, except you have no way of knowing if it is working. It doesn’t keep log files, it doesn’t notify you if a backup job failed. It doesn’t let you know if it is running. Its simplicity is actually symptomatic of a flaw: it’s incomplete.
These were problems that I desperately wanted to avoid with Time Drive. And version 0.3 includes a number of refinements that solve these issues while at the same time making make it better, easier and more refined. In the rest of this post, I’ll explain why.
As much as I love Apple’s Time Machine, it’s a hard drive pig. If not carefully watched, the little porker will use every spare byte of free space it can. What is particularly obnoxious, however, is that you might not realize you have a problem until it is too late and you’re backup drive is filled to capacity.
Take my situation as an example. I have a single MacBook Pro notebook with a 250 GB hard drive. Most of my files are text based and on the smallish side. In comparison, my networked backup is a hefty 1.5 terabytes. The combination of small hard drive and large backup drive had me thoroughly convinced that I wouldn’t have to worry about free up space for years.
I was wrong.
Because of the size of the backup drive, I like to keep other files on it – mostly music and video files – so that I have a duplicate copy. But earlier this week, I got a nasty surprise while trying to add an album I had just downloaded from Amazon Mp3. The Mac informed me the backup drive was full.
As you might guess, I found this to be very confusing. How could the drive be full? Sure … I had three or four hundred gigabytes of music and video files on it, but there was no way that the Time Machine backup could be over a terabyte in size … Could it?
This situation didn’t smell right, so I decided to investigate. I mounted the backup drive and tracked down the Time Machine sparsebundle and confirmed the impossible. My Time Machine Backup was a whopping 1.15 terabytes worth of disk space. “How in the world could the backup be so large?”, I asked myself. “Time Machine is supposed to be an incremental system. 1.15 terabytes is big enough to hold every bit and byte on my computer four and a half times over!”
First, I got annoyed; then, I got angry. What really tipped the scale toward seething fury, however, was failing to find any straightforward way of getting the space back. Yet another spectacular example of Apple’s “simple over useful” approach to computer design!
After the first bout of obscenities, I came to a simple conclusion: I could publicly express my dissatisfaction with Apple’s product line or I could go about trying to find a solution. Publicly spouting off was unlikely to help much, so I opted for the latter option. What follows is a brief summary of what I learned.
While Mac OS X shares many things in common with other Unix operating systems, it also has a couple of missing parts. This can make installing software more difficult when compared to Linux or other *nix variants, and unfortunately, Duplicity happens to be one of those cases.
But just because it is more difficult to install Duplicity on Mac doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile. Duplicity is one of the best command line backup programs available anywhere. Using the same program, you can backup to a local hard drive, FTP server, over SSH or even to Amazon S3. It uses the rsync algorithm, which means that backups happen quickly and only the parts of files that actually changed get copied. Subsequently, backups are smaller.
Nor does it mean that installing Duplicity is actually all that hard, it’s just a bit tedious. Like many other *nix programs, Duplicity requires a number of additional programs (called dependencies) that you will have to search out and install separately. To make that process easier, this article explains how. Below, you’ll find links to the download pages and instructions for how to compile each of Duplicity’s dependencies on Mac OS X. The instruction set has been tested both on Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard).
Regular readers of this blog might accuse me of having a deep seated resentment against iPhone, Mac OS X and Apple in general. The only problem, of course, is that resentment is the wrong word. Disillusionment and disgust are much more accurate.
You see, purchasing a Mac computer was one of the single biggest disappointments of my young technical life. I had been promised so much!
If you read the ramblings of online pundits or dedicated Apple purists, you will know that switching to a Mac brings a Zen like state to your computing. It will make you more productive, more creative, more organized, more intelligent and possibly even more attractive.
Except after nearly three years of owning one and using it more or less daily, I’ve come to a simple conclusion: my MacBook Pro, in addition to being a lovely paperweight, is a computer. Nothing more, and quite possibly a whole lot less. (Were it just a computer, I might even be able to use it the way that I want, instead of capitulating to the desires of a mega corporation.)
In fact, I’ve further decided that there is only one possible way that you can possibly claim that a Mac is easier to use than a PC (short of using mind altering chemicals, that is). You must choose to stay within Apple’s suffocating glass greenhouse and allow Apple to decide what you can do and dictate precisely how you will do it. The Apple experience demands nothing less.
Want to run that piece of software that worked just fine until you installed Apple’s latest glorified service pack? Sorry, that isn’t going to happen, either. “Backwards compatibility prevents us from creating innovative and utterly amazing (tm) new user experiences.”
Or want to use that iPhone program that was approved at the highest levels, and then rejected without explanation? “We just can’t allow that. It could result in user confusion.”
In contrast, when something goes wrong on a PC, people – rightly, might I add – blame Microsoft. Microsoft makes a disgusting amount of money from their software; and in a sane world, money buys accountability. We pay the CEOs of large corporations obscene salaries and even more ludicrous bonuses to fix problems. If there’s a malfunction, someone is reassuringly responsible; if there’s a disaster, someone is handily available to be lynched.
Except, reality breaks down within the Church of Apple. If a Mac user has a problem, you can rest assured that she will blame herself. You just know that a technical glitch couldn’t possibly be because Apple made a mistake, or the product contains a flaw. Apple merchandise is loving crafted and precisely engineered! And the omnisicient Steve Jobs thinks of absolutely everything!
Is it really so hard to see that Apple’s technical accomplishments represent the pinnacle of human accomplishment? Or that every contact with the Holy Church is divinely sublime?
It is positively convenient to drive 50 miles to the nearest Apple store, wait for more than an hour because the iDisciples can’t keep to their appointment system, and lose your computer for a week and a half because a computer repair service doesn’t stock hard drives. You get to talk to a human being, who will insult you to your face rather than over the phone! If you can’t get it to work, that’s your problem. You’re obviously not smart or cool enough to be an Apple person.
In Apple’s pristine little world, it’s just inconceivable that Apple’s products might not be nearly so desirable as the punditocracy claims. It’s blasphemy of the highest order, requiring that thorough penance to be administered by the all-too enthusiastic congregation of assorted hippies, losers and online freaks. Any individual who so much as implies something negative about Apple deserves theaccusations of bias – defined as anything less than a total willingness to sacrifice their firstborn’s blood on the iAltar – that will plague them for the rest of their public life.
After all, Apple has never done anything to encourage resentment or anger. They’re far too busy voiding warrantees, sabotaging relationships and having a party to promote the thousands of invisible (albeit refined) features and APIs of their near-perfect operating system. As a result, it’s simply incorrect to assert that I resent Apple. Until such time as they do something improper, I’ll just have to classify my feelings as disillusionment and disgust.
When it comes to most things, starting fresh is a blessing. The reason for this is rather simple, when starting over you don’t have to worry about baggage. After all, baggage is only valuable when on holiday; otherwise, it just slows everyone down.
This is especially true for software. Over time, computers tend to accumulate a rather potent type of digital baggage that can be very difficult to get rid of. And that digital garbage results in inconsistencies that can cause enormous – and usually unforeseen – problems.
However, even though starting fresh is usually the best option, that isn’t always true. Sometimes, it’s better to risk the problems and incompatibilities. For example, starting over may mean that you destroy hours worth of customization, or that you lose work already created because the older version are not compatible with the new.
Unfortunately, the general rule is also somewhat true of Time Drive. So, if you were one of those stalwart and brave individuals who decided to experiment with Time Drive 0.1, this post is for you.
In the last few days, I have been in touch with a number of people who have experienced a number of said inconsistencies and problems. And while several of these problems ended up providing insight on mistakes made during development, some of the others were changed on purpose. That is to say, the so called “bug” was actually a feature.
After fielding a couple of particularly angry e-mails, however, I thought that it might be good do a formal write up that describes how to work around these incompatibilities. And while no one likes to squash bugs or fix things that previously worked, rather fortunately, every one of these problems can be overcome with a little bit of effort and patience.
The first time that you attempt to do something, it’s pretty much a guarantee that it’s going to suck. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing. Shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos and MXC have found dozens of way to cash in on the humiliation of their participants. (And what better exemplifies pure suck than a golf ball to the groin?)
It, therefore, shouldn’t come as any surprise that creative pursuits are no exception to the general rule of suckiness. After all, you have to overcome inexperience and ineptitude to produce anything. The only way to ensure that a release doesn’t suck is to finish a first draft and revise heavily. Which requires a great deal of work.
Yet … as interesting as that might be, this isn’t a post about the creative process. It’s about Time Drive and I should probably admit that Time Drive 0.1 had a few … rough … edges. Sure, it mostly worked, but it was new software and did too many strange things to declare anything other than a “work in progress.” But Time Drive 0.1 was a first release and first releases suck.
Second releases, however, offer a chance to clean things up, refine the bleeding edge, and otherwise deliver the goods. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited to announce the release of Time Drive 0.2. This version of Time Drive is a great improvement over it’s predecessor. So much so that Time Drive 0.2 is hereby dubbed the “More S” release: more stable, more secure, more settings, and Amazon S3 storage.
In the remainder of this post, I’ll attempt to justify such a silly name by taking a look at a few of those new features.
It’s been an interesting couple of days. I was rather honored to see that Lifehacker did a short highlight of Time Drive, which I thought was pretty cool. It’s always been one of my goals to have something featured in Lifehacker or Gizmodo, and now I’m going to have to scratch that off the list of goals. But that’s okay, I’ve got other things to fill the void. Like … how exactly does one get invited to present at TED?
On another note … while I knew that I would see some kind of traffic bump due to the article in Lifehacker, I wasn’t necessarily prepared for the magnitude. In mathematics, there is this thing called a step function. It’s where you move from one value to another more or less instantaneously. It looks like a step, hence the name. Sure, It may not actually exist, since even very dramatic shifts still have a non vertical slope; but even so, the change in my traffic might as well be a step-function. Between yesterday and today, I’ve had more visits to this site than I’ve had in much of the rest of the year combined. I think that’s kind of cool, though it probably won’t last.
(This might be a good time to say that I am actually rather proud of my “lackluster” web traffic. Though it might not necessarily be that impressive, it is, nevertheless, mine. I’ve worked hard for it, and I revel in the fact that some 40 to 50 people each day find the unorganized garbage of my mind intoxicating. Some of them even come back!)
But as interesting as that might be, traffic stats is probably not why you're here. Good thing, since I’ve got announcements.
At it’s World Wide Developer’s conference in June of 2006, Apple released a product that changed the way that a great many people think about backup: Time Machine. While I cringe at the thought, I need to descend into the fawning adoration public relations speak that masquerades as critical coverage of Apple Products. (Actually, forget that, here’s how Apple describes their backup system.)
Time machine is a breakthrough automatic backup that’s built right into Mac OS X. It keeps an up-to-date copy of everything on your Mac – digital photos, music, movies, TV shows, and documents. Now, if you ever have the need, you can easily go back in time to recover anything … Time Machine takes care of it … Automatically, in the the background. You’ll never have to worry about backing up again.
General sarcasm and bitterness aside, Time Machine really is a spectacular piece of kit. Sure, you can very successfully imitate a Time Machine experience using the tools within Windows Vista or Linux (or via third party tools such as Norton Ghost). Even so, Time Machine is just just about the perfect combination of simple, powerful, and integrated. And like most Apple products, when used within the Apple eco-system is a lovely experience.
However, if you migrate too far out of the walled garden, Time Machine isn’t quite so nice to work with. Actually, it can be a bit demanding and temperamental. For example, it requires its own formatted hard drive or the ready availability of a specialized Apple router (called a TimeCapsule). Alternatively, it can be a bit flaky; when I was backing up to a local hard drive, it would often quit with an indecipherable error. Luckily, however, these limitations are pretty easy to overcome. In this article, I will look briefly at how to setup Time Machine so that it works with a simple home server running Samba and Subversion.
MobileMe (the email, contacts, calendars and file service from Apple) is something that seemingly everyone loves to hate. It’s too expensive, doesn’tworkright, and doesn’t really offer anything that you can’t find for free. This winning combination of traits have lead to more than a few articles detailing how to sync, share and publish without handing even more money over to Apple.
Even with the plethora of articles explaining how to save time and money, however, it is possible to find happy users of Apple products. Users which will "vigorously" share their "carefully considered" opinions. One user from MacWorld raises the following (somewhat legitimate) points:
Are you the pot or the kettle? First you say don’t expect the rest of us to have the same needs/wants, and then you make a blanket statement … [which] is full of assumptions that are not necessarily correct ...
“It’s way to expansive.” If you only use web hosting, then maybe. MobileMe is $8.25/month. how much is hosting? Does hosting give you automatic sync of photo galleries, contacts, ect. How much is Flickr pro on top of regular web hosting.
Alternatives are not that hard to find, set up or use. Really? It seems that not everyone knows of alternatives. And then why did the commenter have to make suggestions and corrections? It seems to me [that] it’s not as easy as you say.
This happy MobileMe user has essentially laid down a challenge. He implicitly (and others explicitly) state that they are willing to pay good money for their time. And in the same bravado common to members of the Cult of Cupertino, he almost dares someone to disagree with him. Since this topic has become a bandwagon and I’ve decided to generally hop in its direction, I accept this challenge. You might even say that figuring out ways to avoid using Apple’s signature web service has become a bit of a hobby.